Scripture foils attempts to reduce gospel by calling it ‘exhortation’

In 1 Thessalonians 2.3, a section of the letter where he defends himself against accusations of disinterest or self-interest, Paul described his evangelistic work among the Thessalonians as “our exhortation.”

For the appeal we make does not come from error or impurity or with deceit, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we declare it, not to please people but God, who examines our hearts.

The quotation above, from the NET Bible, translates “our exhortation” as “the appeal we make.” An exhortation is an urgent appeal for someone to take a course of action. An exhortation tells someone, “You ought to do this.”

In a footnote about the Greek word translated as exhortation, the NET Bible observes that “Paul here uses παράκλησις (paraklesis) to speak in broad terms about his preaching of the gospel, in which he urges or appeals to people to respond to God’s salvation.”

That this is the case is clear from the context of the verse, in which Paul equates exhortation with the gospel.

There are some among us who, in an effort to remove the necessity of repentance and baptism for forgiveness, attempt to separate them from the gospel. They use, among other artifices, the single summary of 1 Corinthians 15.1-3 (and use it incompletely at that, stopping before the summary is finished), to enumerate what they consider to be the essential elements of the gospel.

But again and again Scripture foils such attempts. In the passage above, Paul uses the term exhortation to refer to the gospel. As such, he urges people to respond to God’s salvation. If gospel is exhortation, then what a person must do to be saved is also a part of the gospel.

Luke understands this also. In his final summary of the gospel, he quotes the Lord Jesus as saying,

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem, Luke 24.45-47.

What was written, or prophesied, was not only that Christ would suffer and rise from the dead, but also that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed. Here, Luke includes repentance among the subjects of prophecy. And he also considers it such an integral part of the gospel that he uses repentance to stand for the whole. Imagine that! To proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins is to proclaim Christ.

Similarly, Phillip did this in Acts 8, with the Ethiopian eunuch. The evangelist started from the passage the high official was reading, Isaiah 53. He “proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him” Acts 8.35. Included in that good news was how the eunuch could access the forgiveness of sins that Jesus offered. We know this because when the official saw a body of water, he mentioned baptism.

This was normal practice for Phillip. Prior to his whirlwind trip to meet the eunuch’s chariot, Phillip was in Samaria. Luke tells us, “But when they [the people of Samaria] believed Phillip as he was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they began to be baptized, both men and women” Acts 8.12. Simple logic demands that if Phillip was offering the Samaritans entrance into the kingdom of God, he would certainly tell them how to get into it, and encourage them to do so. And so he did, as the text makes plain.

In the first gospel sermon, Peter told his listeners to repent and be baptized, Acts 2.38. He urged them further, “With many other words he testified and exhorted them saying, ‘Save yourselves from this perverse generation!'” v. 40.

Ananias exhorted Saul, “Be baptized” Acts 22.16. Again and again, whenever the story of Jesus was told, much exhortation surrounded the proclamation. Not only did they say, “Jesus saves,” but they also exhorted, “Do this in order to be saved.”

In the early days of the gospel in the United States, meetings often had two speakers. One preached the message, another followed up with exhortation. Those early saints knew that the gospel is more than information. They understood, as some refuse to acknowledge today, that it is also exhortation, because people need to do something—something definite and specific—in order to be saved.

So Paul told the Thessalonians and so he tells us today. Those who refuse to read his words and understand them err because they, for all their professed learning, do not know the Scriptures nor the power of God.

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet. His microblog is randal.us.

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